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Santa Barbara County Holiday Food Drives Could Use a Push to Deliver the Goods for the Needy

Poor economy fuels increase of residents seeking assistance but provider agencies are strapped for cash, too

November and December are the busiest months for local charities, which are in critical need of donations as the downtrodden economy drives tens of thousands of families to their doors.

“We’re in high scramble mode,” Unity Shoppe executive director Tom Reed told Noozhawk.

“Our problem is donations are going down in every category,” he said. “In the end of 2008, there were 16,000 people who came to us, and in the end of 2010 — after just two years of the recession — it jumped 44 percent to more than 23,000 people.

“We’re the last resort for all these families, and we work right through Christmas Eve.”

More than 200 families come in every day in December, but there isn’t enough food to give out, Unity Shoppe operations director Barbara Tellefson said.

“In December we’ll be open for food distribution every day, as many as 200 families a day are going through here and we won’t have enough to cover even a quarter of them if we don’t get some money in here,” she said.

Hundreds of other charities send their clients to Unity Shoppe because they don’t have the resources to keep up with increased demand, Tellefson said.

Unity Shoppe has grocery, clothing and household goods centers where people can pick out their own products, in addition to work clothing, résumé and job training, and special orders for seniors — and everything is free.

As Tellefson likes to say, if everyone gave up a movie and a bag of popcorn to donate, there would be enough money and food to go around.

On Dec. 10, the nonprofit organization will be staging its annual Unity Shoppe Telethon but people can donate money or items — Unity Shoppe prefers bulk in popular items like pinto beans and peanut butter — anytime.

“We’re really desperate this year,” Tellefson said. “It’s really bad for us. We’ve been kind of out of food all along.”

Click here to make an online donation, or call 805.965.4122. Checks can be mailed to Unity Shoppe, 1219 State St., Santa Barbara 93101.

Click here for more information on Unity Shoppe.

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, which provides hundreds of member agencies with food, is trying to get about 1,200 more turkeys before the close of business Monday to reach its goal of 4,000 to be distributed for Thanksgiving.

The Foodbank was helped by the efforts of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust community relations vice president Randy Weiss, who mobilized and challenged other local banks to raise money and close the gap. In just a few days, a $4,200 donation was gathered from Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, American Riviera Bank, Business First Bank, Kinecta Federal Credit Union and Montecito Bank & Trust. That money bought 291 turkeys, said Foodbank development director Jane Lindsey.

The Foodbank expects to give out 2 million pounds of food this month and next, an effort that is helped by the nonprofit organization’s Holiday Food & Funds Drive through Dec. 24.

The Foodbank gave out 1.8 million pounds last year, and demand has been steadily increasing.

“It’s really important the community gets behind giving financially and with food,” Lindsey said.

On Dec. 10, meanwhile, postal service employees are expected to pick up more than 10,000 pounds of food during the annual National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive. The carriers collect cans and other food during their routes from doorsteps, and the donations will be given to the Foodbank.

Three leading South Coast companies also are lending a hand to the Foodbank with a competition to collect the most volunteer hours, food and monetary donations.

Citrix Online, Deckers Outdoor Corp. and Network Hardware Resale employees often have their contributions matched by the companies, Lindsey said. Dozens of clubs, churches and civic groups participate in food drives on both the South Coast and in the North County, she added.

The virtual food drives, through the Foodbank’s Web site, are the most cost-effective since there’s no need to dispatch and pick up a barrel and the group has tremendous buying power.

Lindsey encourages people to give the trifecta: bring some food, throw in a few dollars, and stay and help out for a while.

Food and donations can be dropped off from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, 4554 Hollister Ave. in Santa Barbara, or at 490 W. Foster Road in Santa Maria.

Click here for more information about the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, or call 805.967.5741. Connect with the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County on Facebook. Follow the Foodbank on Twitter: @FoodbankSBC.

Member agencies like the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission rely on that food to contribute to big Thanksgiving feasts and everyday meals. The Rescue Mission has seen a 20 percent increase in demand for emergency meals since the start of the recession, president Rolf Geyling has said.

The Rescue Mission’s annual Thanksgiving Feast will feed at least 300 people beginning at noon Wednesday. Rescue Mission communications director Rebecca Wilson said about 12,000 meals are expected to be distributed in December, and a donation of $1.50 can buy a meal.

Donations can be dropped off between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Rescue Mission, 535 E. Yanonali St. in Santa Barbara. Click here to make a donation online.

Click here for more information on the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, or call 805.966.1316. Connect with the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission on Facebook. Follow the Rescue Mission on Twitter: @SBRescueMission

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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